Review: The Greatest Showman

It’s all sparkles, bright lights and rose coloured glasses for this glamorous musical that’s high on spectacle and low on substance. The cast give it their all, the numbers are fine yet, like eating a Big Mac, it seems filling at the time but not long afterwards, you’re left hungry again.

In what is ostensibly an ode to capitalism and exploiting people for profit, The Greatest Showman riffs on that rather murky subject and tries to sell it as a I’m something from nothing moralistic message. Truth be told, P.T. Barnum was a fairly unscrupulous businessman, in it for the money more than anything else and would exploit people to get as much as he could. That little nugget is shifted to side in lieu of big Hughy Jackman’s idealistic take on the man here.

The debut feature film for Aussie director Michael Gracey (he comes from the world of television commercials) does Baz Luhrmann-lite here by relying on some hooky songs, lavish production design, zappy editing and the screen chewing charm offensive that is his leading man to get it across the line.

Ably supported by Michelle Williams, Zac Efron and Zendaya, Jackman’s unbreakable likeability keeps the film moving at a propulsive pace yet for all its bounce and bluster, The Greatest Showman needs more substance than what’s on offer.

Working from a subtlety and subtext lacking screenplay from Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, Gracey takes no shame in gunning for shiny side of everything here to drive this rags to riches story.  Full of spectacle and impressive choreography, the end result is a thrift 105 minute confection that, whilst a refreshing blast of musical fluff for cinemas, misses a real opportunity for drama in showing the inherent contradictions in the ideology of Barnum.

Showy, glitzy and energetic, The Greatest Showman is out to show a good time to everybody. It’s a surface value entertainment that’s ‘light on the fizz so you can slam it down fast‘ (thank you Solo) with catchy songs and invested performances that are restricted by a script that dares not to traverse the darker side of the subject matter.